Casey Baseel

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Casey Baseel spent his formative years staring in frustration at un-subtitled Japanese TV programming shown on Southern California’s international channel. Taking matters into his own hands, he moved to Tokyo to study the language, then found work in Yokohama a decade ago teaching, translating, and marketing hotels he can’t afford to stay in. When not participating in the eternal cycle of exercising to burn the calories form his love of Japanese food, Casey scours used comic and game shops for forgotten classics, drags his wife around the country in a quest to visit all its castles, sings karaoke not nearly as well as he thinks he does, and counts the days until the summertime bars open on Enoshima Beach.

All Stories by Casey Baseel

Costco Japan’s bulgogi bake is a melting pot of deliciousness

For the most part, grocery shopping in the Tokyo area is a small-scale affair. The majority of shoppers go to the store on foot and carry their purchases home, meaning that each residential neighborhood has a number of small markets to ensure consumers don’t have to lug their bags more than a few blocks.

However, with a little over 15 years’ experience since opening its first store in Japan, mega retailer Costco has converted a number of the locals to its “bigger is better” philosophy. As you’d expect, Costco gives customers in Japan the chance to save by buying in large quantities, and also serves up hot meals in its food court, just like in other countries.

One thing that’s different about the food court at Costco in Japan, though, is the menu, which includes a Korean fusion item called the bulgogi bake.

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Manga legend Shigeru Mizuki’s longevity seems to come from lots of burgers and desserts

Shigeru Mizuki is one of Japan’s most loved comic artists, having created the manga Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro in 1959. Although the serial ended after a 10-year run, the light-hearted story about the traditional Japanese spirits called yokai still has a strong following today, thanks to multiple animated and live-action adaptations premiering as recently as 2008.

Mizuki isn’t resting on his laurels either, despite turning 92 next month. He started a new manga series just last December, and the energetic nonagenarian has recently released a book cataloguing the eating habits that have resulted in his long life. So what does his diet consist of? A surprisingly large amount of junk food.

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Japanese women discuss the pros and cons of being a guy’s first girlfriend ever

Most socializing in Japan is done in groups, and while there’s definitely something to be said for the “the more the merrier” philosophy behind it, that same social norm can sometimes work against a person’s love life. Sure, a guy might have a thing for a girl who he’s in the same school club with, but it can be hard to take the relationship to the next level if they never have any time alone together. On the opposite side of the scale, if there’s no one who strikes a man’s fancy in his immediate social circle, expanding his network of acquaintances, and with it his dating pool, can be a tricky endeavor to pull off.

The end result is a number of men in Japan who don’t enter into a serious romantic relationship until they’re well into adulthood. Luckily, this isn’t a complete deal breaker for them, but that lack of experience does change the playing field, as shown in a survey of 206 Japanese women in their teens, twenties, and thirties who shared their hopes and concerns about being a guy’s very first girlfriend.

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Tokyo’s eight favorite places to get dorayaki, Japan’s favorite sweet bean cake

While green tea ice cream and the chocolate snack sticks called Pocky are some of the most famous Japanese sweets abroad, they are both fairly recent additions to the cultural landscape of Japan. The history of Japanese confectionaries stretches back for generations before the introduction of those two modern treats, and one favorite of Japanese residents with a sweet tooth is the sweet bean cake known as dorayaki.

But while the upside to the popularity of dorayaki is that you’re never far from a store selling them, with so many suppliers, how are you supposed to pick one, especially when your stomach is growling and your mouth is watering? Simple, by consulting this guide to eight of the best dorayaki shops in Tokyo.

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Japanese company builds giant robot you could be piloting right now

Chiba Prefecture’s Wonder Festival is a bi-annual figure and model expo. The event’s bread and butter is figurine of anime and video game characters, in both frighteningly realistic and sexily unrealistic varieties.

But while the first thing most people associate with the event is toys, if your model is made of metal instead of plastic or urethane, and it’s self-propelled to boot, you’ve crossed the line of three-dimensional art and moved into straight-up engineering. Of course, Wonder Festival’s exhibitors aren’t going to stray too far from their fanciful roots, so what do you get when you combine technology with science fiction? You get this amazing giant robot, which is so easy to pilot that attendees could test drive it.

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12 tales of true hospitality from Japanese hotels and inns

Japan takes customer service very seriously, something that’s easy to see when even convenience store clerks are so dedicated to their job they’ll ask if you want your hot and cold purchases bagged separately, or else build a protective barrier between them. Hospitality standards are no joke, either, as illustrated by the tasks traditional innkeepers are expected to perform, such as carrying the dishes and utensils for full-course meals into and out of guests’ rooms.

It’s no surprise, then, that travelers in Japan have plenty of stories to tell about attentive inns and hotels, such as the 12 below from an online survey by web portal My Navi Woman in Japan.

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You can look at this life-size Super Sonico anime figure, but you can’t touch

Last Sunday, while the Tokyo area was still blanketed in white from the previous day’s snowstorm, we braved the cold and made the trip out to Makuhari Messe in Chiba Prefecture for the winter installment of Wonder Festival. The bi-annual model expo is packed with the latest anime and video game-inspired figurines, including a fully-operational robot suit and hyper-realistic sculpture of one of Attack on Titan’s monsters from the torso up.

But the Attack on Titan figure wasn’t the only giant bust on display, as there was also a life-size statue of voluptuous anime character Super Sonico. In keeping with her exotic dancer-quality figure, though, her display area had some strip club-style rules, such as no groping allowed.

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Who is the greatest manga creator ever? Japanese comic fans cast their votes

Some hardcore fans of manga comics take their devotion to an almost religious fervor. So strong is their enthusiasm that Osamu Tezuka, the medium’s more prolific and prominent pioneer, is commonly referred to as “The God of Manga.”

Manga, however, is far from a monotheistic religion, and in the 25 years since his passing, other artists have seen their creations go on to achieve the same fame and popularity as Tezuka’s. A recent survey of 24,420 Japanese comic fans recently chose four other artists for the pantheon.

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So like us – Monkey takes dip in hot spring, brings iPhone

Along with Mt. Fuji and the Shibuya scramble intersection, a snapshot of a woman chatting on a cell phone while dressed in a kimono is one of the must-have photos from any extensive stay in Japan. That seamless blending of the traditional and high-tech is a perfect encapsulation of just what makes Japan such a compelling society.

Hmm, you know what? We forgot to include a picture of a monkey in a hot spring on our photography checklist. That’s another one of those “Only in Japan” scenes, right? But what if you’re running short on time? Is there any way to multitask and combine our subjects?

Sure there is, with this picture of a primate taking a dip in a hot spring with his very own smartphone.

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Scout Corps now accepting recruits for upcoming Attack on Titan Real Escape Games

As its popularity continues to grow, Attack on Titan seems to be seeping into the real world more and more, whether with figurines (in both hyper-realistic and, well, potato versions) or replicas of the heroes’ 3-D maneuver gear. Soon, though, fans will have a chance to reverse the trend and experience the world of the hit anime first-hand at a series of Attack on Titan-themed escape games.

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Final Fantasy Chocolates: The gift your gaming Valentine actually wants

Last weekend I was at a department store in Tokyo, and since Valentine’s Day is coming up, the confectionary section was packed with candy makers hawking limited-edition chocolates for the romantic holiday. As I looked at all the sweetness on display, though, something struck me.

In Japan, women give chocolate to the special guy in their life, but the aesthetics are still entirely feminine. I saw dozens of candies shaped like hearts, ribbons, and even teddy bears and other cute woodland animals.

While the craftsmanship was impressive, none of the designs were the sort of things men actually want for themselves, especially when they could have these awesome Final Fantasy chocolates instead.

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Girls manga magazine comes with cool perfume mixing set, puzzling beauty advice columns

The monthly comics anthology Nakayoshi is the oldest of Japan’s big three girls manga magazines, debuting months before rival Ribon and decades ahead of Ciao. Most of Nakayoshi’s readers are elementary and junior high school girls, but with over 50 years in circulation, there are generations of adult women who grew up reading its titles such as Princess Knight, Sailor Moon, and Cardcaptor Sakura.

One such former Nakayoshi kid is our Japanese correspondent Anji. While Anji’s a little older than the magazine’s target market, she was recently enticed into buying her first issue in years by the freebie included with Nakayoshi’s March issue: a perfume set that allows you to mix your own fragrances.

That cool giveaway wouldn’t be the only thing that surprised her about the magazine she used to know, however.

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Still don’t want a smartphone? Japanese women might want you

Despite my work address being “The Internet,” my personal use cell phone actually isn’t a smartphone. Maybe it’s a result of spending several hours a day looking at websites, but to me there’s still just something that feels right about a compact phone that folds shut with an oddly satisfying snap, even if the sound provokes a Pavlovian response of laughter from any technophiles in earshot.

But like skinny ties and 8-bit video game graphics, it seems like flip phones aren’t quite ready to fade away entirely. As a matter of fact, busting out an old school flip phone in Japan just might make a man more attractive to women.

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Hulu Japan offers not just movies, but a little education and awesome customer service too

It’s kind of surprising that even with all of the high tech gadgetry you can find in Japan, most people still make a trip to a video rental store when they feel like watching a movie at home. However, online video streaming services such as Hulu have entered the market, and are finally starting to make some headway in changing how viewers get their entertainment fix.

One well-known fact about business in Japan is that in order to succeed in the country, you’ve got to be able to supply excellent customer service, which is just what one of our reporters got from Hulu Japan in this true story.

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Historic Los Angeles donut shop makes our trip across the sea completely worthwhile

In many ways, Japan is a wonderland of desserts, a place with cherry blossom lattes, roasted tea parfaits, and even suicide-themed bean cakes. Still, the country is rather lacking when it comes to donuts. The indigenous Mr. Donut chain has branches all over, but while their products are indeed tasty, they’re usually a little on the bland side.

If you want the full-fledged flavor of an authentic donut, you’ve got to visit one of the American outfits in Japan, such as Krispy Kreme or Donut Plant. Unfortunately, Donut Plant locations are few and far between, and the lines at Japan’s Krispy Kremes are ridiculously long, so there’s no way for us to get our hands on the real deal without a bit of time and travel.

Since we’d already tossed subtlety out the window as far as flavor is concerned, we decided to do the same for the scale of our search for donut satisfaction. We hopped on a plane, leaving the Land of the Rising Sun and heading for the Land of the Ring-Shaped Cake, America.

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Manga secret agent team has handsome looks, plus backaches, cavities, and sties

As completely fictitious forms of media, we usually don’t see the characters in anime and manga suffering the physical ill effects of their action-packed lifestyles. Shouldn’t Evangelion’s Shinji have severe whiplash from all the times his scrawny frame gets tossed around while piloting his giant robot? How does Kenshiro, hero of post-apocalyptic epic Fist of the North Star, not get a wicked eye infection after spending the whole of his adult life wandering a desert wasteland without so much as bottle of eye drops?

The answer, of course, is that those aren’t what Evangelion and Fist of the North Star are about (they’re about turning humanity into delicious Tang and making dudes’ heads explode, respectively). But by skipping over these real world problems, are creators missing an opportunity to make their characters more nuanced, relatable, and ultimately, attractive?

At least one artist seems to think so, as a new manga series has just begun featuring a cast of handsome men all suffering from physical ailments such as hay fever and stiff shoulders.

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How sweet! Fans send 8,000 boxes of Valentine’s Day chocolate to one anime character

Unlike in the West, in Japan it’s primarily girls who hand out gifts of chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Although the most common pattern is for a woman to give sweets to her boyfriend or secret crush, the holiday’s scope has been expanded to include relatives, coworkers, or any guy whose kindness she feels indebted to, regardless of whether there’s any romantic sentiment involved or not.

In recent years, the recipient doesn’t even have to be a real person, as this giant haul of Valentine’s Day chocolate for a single anime character proves.

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Manga strip exposes the violent underbelly of all-girls schools in Japan

Recent arrivals to Japan are often surprised to find that the country’s educational system has a number of all-girls schools, at levels ranging from elementary to university. To the inexperienced outsider, this can conjure up all sorts of fanciful images of students dressed in petticoat and culottes, gliding gracefully down pastel-painted hallways on their way to the cafeteria to sip and nibble at their lunches of herbal tea and strawberry crepes.

However, often the truth isn’t quite so rose-tinted. After all, both men and women tend to try to put their nicest face forward when members of the opposite gender are around. Many graduates of all-female schools in Japan report that without any incentive to play up the softer sides of their personalities, the girls there can be downright nasty to each other, as illustrated in this short comic.

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New Attack on Titan model is both fear and awe inspiring

While there’s no questioning that Attack on Titan is one of the most successful anime of the past several years, there’s still room for debate about the series’ giant monsters themselves. Sure, the titans stand 60 meters (197 feet) tall and are out to eat all of mankind. At the same time, though, they’re naked, often disheveled, and occasionally of pudgy build. Sometimes they look downright comical, even becoming the inspiration for lighthearted merchandise and cosplay.

So which is it? Are the titans supposed to be terrifying or silly?

After taking a look at this new Attack on Titan model, we’re going to have to put one more mark in the latter column.

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Retailer promotes true goal of men’s fashion: convincing women to take their clothes off

Marketing men’s fashion can be a tricky thing, since, as on average, guys don’t spend that much time worrying about their outfits. One exception, though, is when they’re trying to impress girls. You can sell a man a jacket as long as you first sell him on the image that it’ll make him more attractive to women.

Of course, even if it is the underlying message, most companies are more subtle than to come right out and claim you’ll look so cool in their clothes that women will take their pants off for you.

Japanese online retailer Men’s Fashion Plus is not most companies.

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